Content Part 4: Using Email Newsletters to Build Trust And Our Email Plan Going Forward
We’re finishing our content week off with the content type that’s arguably the most important for us: email.
Email drives over 90% of our revenue these days. To say it’s important for our lives and businesses would be an understatement.
Since 2013, we’ve been focused on using email to cultivate audiences, share ideas and lessons learned, and promote products or services we’ve created that can help independent creators (like you!) do more awesome stuff.
In the past five years, with an email list no bigger than 15,000 people, we’ve generated over $1,000,000 in revenue.
I know that comes off as a humblebrag, but it’s truly not my intention (mostly because revenue ≠ money sitting in our bank accounts, so it’s not as glamorous as it seems). My hope is that you see 15,000 email subscribers as an achievable number. And that you also see that you don’t need 50,000 -100,000 email subscribers to bring in a very awesome amount of revenue.
How we’ve been using email to build our audiences and make money, and what we’ll be doing moving forward
I'll be totally honest with you: We do NOT have a perfect plan in place for our email strategy going forward. I’m not sure we had a perfect plan/strategy before embarking on our Wandering Aimfully journey. That being said, we have some ideas about what we’ll be doing moving forward based on what’s been working for us in the past.
WHAT’S BEEN WORKING
Caroline and I have used a simple set of tactics when it comes to sending out email newsletters:
- The emails need to be helpful in some way (focused on our How To or Why To content strategy)
- The emails need to show up consistently in people’s inboxes (this was crucial when we were getting started because it built trust and a schedule our subscribers could look forward to)
- The emails need to be written authentically and honestly (we embrace our writing quirks/styles—me especially—and aren’t trying to win any Pulitzer prizes here)
- The emails can promote a product or service, but we'll only do so in a way that feels congruent with how we’d want to be sold to (no slick sales tactics or false senses of urgency)
These tactics have taken us both from ZERO subscribers a few years ago to the 15,000 number I mentioned earlier (this means total combined subscribers). For what it’s worth, we’d probably have 30,000-40,000 subscribers by now, but we regularly prune thousands of people from our list who are not opening our emails. (I'd rather not pay more money a month just to pad my ego, thanks!)
We’d rather have a smaller email list where people are excited to get our emails, than a bigger email list where we’re paying for dead subscribers (down with vanity metrics!).
I mentioned that $1,000,000 revenue number earlier, and I want to touch on it for a moment. It did not happen overnight. In fact, it happened in small enough increments that I didn’t even realize we’d made $1,000,000 in total revenue from our email lists until I wrote this post! And while that round number is fun to share and all, it doesn’t really mean anything to us to “have made a million dollars.” Again, my hope is that in sharing our list size and total revenue, it gives you perspective for your own business/email list. By sharing those numbers I want to a) bust the myth that you need hundreds of thousands of subscribers to make substantial revenue and b) bust the myth that oodles of revenue translates to swimming in gold like Scrooge McDuck and never having to worry about money again.
COMBINING BOTH OUR LISTS
The first decision moving forward with our email strategy is to take the Self-Made Society (Caroline’s email list) and the Action Army (my email list) and combine them into the Wandering Aimfully email list. As of writing this email, that’s 15,563 total subscribers.
We actually tested combining our list at the end of 2017 and it went over really smoothly. We called the combined email the “Vibrant Stuff” list and didn’t have too much outrage from our subscribers (I write that jokingly, because our subscribers are 99.9% awesome and supportive of our decisions). That being said, the Vibrant Stuff test was just that—a test for a few weeks. This change, however, is going to be a for-ev-er change so we want to feel good about it.
Why not just keep our lists separate? Great hypothetical question! The reason: Our sanity. That, and, Wandering Aimfully is all about being better together. There’s enough overlap in what we write about that we don’t feel it’s a gigantic departure from what our audiences were currently getting from us separately.
We’ll move forward with a single email list and continue our weekly sending schedule on Monday’s at 7am with ONE email. (I’ll cover the planned content for our emails in just a moment.)
WILL OUR CURRENT EMAIL GROWTH RATE CONTINUE?
Between our two lists, we see an average of 25 new subscribers per day. Considering we don’t focus at all on email subscriber growth, in fact we’re pretty bad at it*, that number seems great to us. Especially given the fact that we’re running our businesses the way we want and they’re providing a lifestyle we truly enjoy.
*What do I mean when I say we’re “pretty bad” at focusing on email growth?
- We have almost zero lead magnets (ex: enter your email to download a PDF on this article to learn more)
- When people buy our products or sign up for our free courses we almost never add them to our main lists (hahah, oops!)
- We have opt-in forms on our websites, but we rarely test or change them to see if they could improve conversion rates (different copy, button styles, calls to action, etc)
Sure, we could be doing WAY worse, but since our focus isn’t on growth, we just shrug our shoulders and carry on with our work.
We have no idea if our current email growth rate will continue with Wandering Aimfully, but we do have some email capture strategies we’ll be using going forward.
1. Welcome Mat - I mentioned this in a previous post, but I enjoy having a very honest Welcome Mat and it seems my website visitors enjoy it too. It’s the highest performing email capture form on JasonDoesStuff and we can directly tie $40,000 in revenue to people who subscribed via the Welcome Mat (hell yes email segmenting and tagging in Drip! That's how we were easily able to see that total). We’ll continue with an honest Welcome Mat on Wandering Aimfully and see how it performs.
2. "Working To Live" free email course - The Working To Live mindset is something we came up with last year and it has really seemed to resonate with our audience. We want to turn our in-depth workshop into an actionable 3-4 week email course that becomes a lead-in to our main email list. If new subscribers like Working To Live, they should enjoy the rest of Wandering Aimfully. (And if they don’t, we’ll happily watch them unsubscribe because they weren’t the right fit for us!)
3. Email Forms throughout - This is pretty straightforward, but we’ll have email forms at the bottom of our articles as well as on a few of our highest trafficked pages (Homepage, About, etc). One fun thing that we’re already doing on THIS under construction site, is using Right Message to hide the signup form if you’ve already added your email to any signup form. I loooove doing this as it gives a much better experience for our subscribers (much more to come about how we’re going to use Right Message very soon).
4. Lead Magnets on our best performing content - There are a few articles that drive the majority of our traffic (topics like: social media detox, writing email pitches, etc). We want to look at these articles and see if there’s a way to deliver extra value through a downloadable PDF, spreadsheet, etc. If there is a good opportunity for that, we’ll collect someone’s email address as a trade for that extra goodie. Truth be told, this is lowwww on our priority list and may not get done before launch.
5. Creating share-worthy content - This is really less of an email capture strategy and more of a practical everyone-should-be-doing this strategy. We want our content to be good enough that someone will read it and say “dang, I need to share this!” Then, we hope fun things like our article B.F.T. (Big Fat Takeaway) with fun share icons will make that sharing easier!
That’s basically it. Five simple things we plan on doing (one of which may not get done). If you were expecting email capture rocket science, we’re sorry to let you down.
Before we move on from this topic, I think it’s worth noting the email capture strategies we won’t be using:
- 🙅🏻♂️ Popups and exit intents galore: We’ve all visited sites where you get blasted in the face with popups before you even know what you’re looking at. It’s a bummer and we’re not interested in doing that. Ever.
- 🙅🏻♀️ Giveaways: This is from my own personal experience with a previous business, but building an audience through giveaways tends to build an audience that only wants free stuff (aka will never buy anything). I could see our stance on this changing if we created a really well-aligned giveaway that’s not just random stuff.
- 🚫 JVs: I just freakin’ hate the term “JV.” It makes me feel icky and gross. If you don’t know what a JV is (good for you!), it stands for Joint Venture. Carol and I will be JV’ing with each other enough that we won’t have time to JV with other people (hehe, that sounded dirty🙈). I don’t disagree with this strategy if done right, because other people can have great audiences, it’s just not something we’re focusing on.
We're always aiming for a balance between converting website visitors to email subscribers and avoiding doing ALL the email capture things. This goes back to our mantra of “enough” and being okay with NOT trying to convert every website visitor at every turn.
What the heck are we going to email our subscribers about every Monday going forward?
This is where we’re a bit stuck at the moment. (Told you we were going to be honest.) We don’t exactly know which direction we should go. A couple options that are staring us in the face:
OPTION #1 - ONE EMAIL, TWO ARTICLES
We could simply split our email newsletter into two parts. One half is a more practical How-To article from me. The second half is a more Why-To article from Caroline. They would have some visual design difference, and we’d probably display 2-3 paragraphs from each with a link to read more (or maybe include the full articles, since we’ve got your attention and you’re reading email?)
OPTION #2 - A JOINT ARTICLE
No, not that kind of joint. One article topic that we both want to write about, but that one person takes the lead on. Then, throughout the article the other person adds commentary.
OPTION #3 - MYSTERY BOX!
There would be no specific structure and we’d probably do Option #1 some weeks, Option #2 other weeks, and then probably some random different stuff during other weeks! Yeah, I know, kind of a cop-out option here, but I told you we didn’t have this part figured out just yet.
All we know is, we want to continue sending valuable content to our subscribers while also letting both our personalities (and ideas) shine. It’s probably going to require some trial and error for a few weeks/months, but hey, isn’t that what Wandering Aimfully stands for anyway?